Forecasting GDP

We have developed a measure of our productivity that we call the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). By this measure, we can estimate the totality of what we do. Historically, with an agrarian lifestyle, the GDP related primarily to two factors being the quantity and quality of farmland. With mechanization, the GDP also related to access to machinery and energy to power it. On viewing the world GDP over the millennia, we see its steady increase.

Notably, the GDP relies upon our access to resources, whether pastures to grow food or deposits to mine ores. Equally, we need energy to power our machines. If we assume a boundless world, then we could continually farm new pastures, dig new mines and burn fossil fuels. In consequence, the world’s GDP would continually increase. Obviously this assumption errs on a finite Earth as we will eventually have put all available land under pasture, have dug up all accessible ores and have burnt all fossil fuels. Equally, this assumption does not consider potential negative feedback such as today’s climate change as caused by burning fossil fuels. Thus, while GDP will continually rely upon our access to resources, we cannot assume that our access to resources will continue.

So how will the GDP change? According to models, GDP will steadily increase for the duration of this century and result in an overall increase from year 2020 by 3 to 10 times. On an infinite world, without negative feedback, this is possible. But what if the negative feedback has a significant impact? Should we plan to decrease GDP or do we simply react as need? If you foresee the need for a decrease, how do you ensure it occurs long into the future?

Further, what will happen to the Earth’s wildlife? Note that the GDP does not include wildlife, even if it’s a fundamental basis for life. Do we assume it will mostly disappear as our GDP grows? To what effect?
Life Cycle

Livestock and Wildlife

We humans are omnivores. We eat and digest almost anything. This ability enabled us to be a very successful species. Now, as we continue to usurp control of the Earth’s ecosystem, we adapt more and more land toward our food production. We change grasslands into pastures and forests into orchards and cropland. This is because we’re choosing what we want to eat even though we are omnivores.

As our population grows and we refine our diets, we’re adapting more and more land for agriculture. By using the GCAM Earth System Model inputted with median expectations and with a population that aligns with our current 8 billion people, we can estimate the amount of change. From it, we expect by the year 2100 there will be a 200% increase in the amount of livestock together with a 50% increase in cropland. Further, there will be a 50% increase in our usage of forests whether for logging or biomass (e.g. firewood). This scenario of the future shows the impact of our growing population and its diet.

We need to think about these increases. Already our livestock accounts to over 4% of all of Earth’s biomass while wild life amounts to 0.3%, a ratio of more than 10 to 1. If, in the future, we double our livestock and expand the land we use for agriculture then we’d expect a ratio of well over 40 to 1 of livestock to wildlife. Not so long ago, no livestock existed within the Earth’s ecosystem. This is worth thinking about.

This negative impact on wildlife is just one way that our species impacts the Earth’s ecosystem. The ongoing loss of wild lands will cause a mass extinction of wildlife. No amount of energy will bring species back from extinction. Is a future without wildlife really what we want?
Marmot in fog


Our wonderful Earth provides environments of great variety and extent. We’ve made our homes nearly everywhere with research stations in the Antarctic, shelters in the high north and hotels underwater. We’ve even built accommodations well above Earth’s surface with Tiangong and the ISS. What is special about all these? We have ensured that their temperature and humidity remain amenable to us, i.e. controlled environments.

What do we mean by controlled? It means we negate weather’s discomfort whether rain, snow, heat or cold. With it, we can focus upon contrived activities, e.g. designing or shopping. However, we need energy to maintain the artificial environment. Without it, the weather directly affects us and we cannot focus on our contrived activities, e.g Arsal. We could say that losing climate control would diminish the gross domestic product (GDP).

Is there a limit to the area with controlled environment? We now maintain about 178 billion square meters, larger than the area of Cambodia. Energy for this artificial environment accounts for nearly 50% of annual global CO2 emissions. We expect to add 230 billion square metres of floor area by the year 2060. Is this enough or too much? When constructing, should we account for energy usage and emissions? Do we reduce the area as our population diminishes? Do you see a future for yourself living in nature or living in a controlled environment?


Energy to Survive

We’ve already noted that we live on a finite world. When people use its resources, regardless of whether renewable, the resources are not available for anything else. Our current use of energy enables both our numbers and our technology to flourish. A growth economy assumes this approach is without end. It assumes we live on an infinite world.

As you can well imagine, eventually the energy supply will not meet the energy demand, as our world is finite. How do we address this? In a market economy, if a product or technology is unsustainable, then it disappears. Will we hold the same principle to life? When the energy supply to support life proves inadequate, then people disappear. Perhaps we let people choose for themselves. They may choose between either technology such as a cellphone or food such as bread. Those who choose badly will disappear and, eventually, energy demand will equal supply.

Should we extend this same logic to all life? Wildlife needs both energy / food and space to flourish. Sometimes numbers explode as for mammals after the Cretaceous-tertiary extinction event. And we see numbers crash as with reindeer on St Matthew Island. Logically, if people consume most of Earth’s energy resources then wildlife numbers will crash. With the continual rise in our energy consumption, are we unknowingly planning a future Earth that will sustain life only for some humans together with their chosen support creatures?

The Dollar

We assign a dollar value to show worth. For example, a coat costing $100 should be more capable than one worth $10 and less than one worth $1000. Further, calling something priceless hasn’t stopped us from putting a value to it. We’ve set $18,000 for the loss of a finger or $7.5M for the loss of a human life. But not all lives have equal value. In Afghanistan, a life equates to $9000. In sum, we run our economy based upon worth.

We’ve extended this notion to living creatures. A pet dog costs $2000. But if you lost your pet, you might offer a $500,000 reward, being much more than the value of many human lives. We value cattle at $3000 per head, the value of its meat at market. Or, we could consider black market trade such as pangolins with a value of $350 per kilogram in a restaurant. The challenge with this economics is that the living creature is only worth what the market will bear. The worth has no relevance to the creature’s ecological value and presumably its value is nil if it doesn’t provide direct benefit to people.

Why don’t we value Earth’s ecosystems? We’ve tried to put a number to it; 33T $US. Yet, we again are trying to put a value to something that is priceless. Life requires water, energy, and air in the right amounts to support the mix of flora and fauna. Without these amounts, all life ends. As humans continually degrade the ecosystem to support our market economy, can we see the impact of the ecosystem’s value? Can we see our future?